Many Filipinos are unaware that they have traits and ways that are offensive, rude and unpleasant. This unconscious and seemingly lack of consideration for others, coupled with the Filipinos’ very sensitive and emotional nature, could lead to misunderstanding and conflict. Unchecked, this may even destroy social relationships resulting to lifetime estrangement or falling out between parties concerned.
Here is a short list of traits and practices to illustrate this point and hopefully help to better understand the gentle, smiling Filipino in your midst.
1. When passing by or meeting accidentally, the Filipino’s usual casual greeting is “where are you going?” or “where have you been?” If you answer, inevitably this will be followed with “what will you do” or “what did you do?” Personally I find this intrusive. When in this situation, I would merely answer with a smile and a nod, and go on my way. Because in reality, the other is not really interested to know what you are up to, unless that person is the town’s crier. If that’s the case, I avoid any small talk; else be ready to be fodder for gossip.
2. Many are insensitive of the feelings of others. Commenting on your physical appearance and giving unsolicited advice on what you should do to improve are two of the most common offensive practices many Filipinos spontaneously resort to. “Gosh, you gained a lot of weight!” or “Wow, you’re so thin, what happened to you!” or the more direct “you are fat/thin”. (Ed. Note: It is more offensive when said in the vernacular) Telling another what to do to improve and compare how s/he look now with his/her looks many years back or worse with another person is really rude. Unfortunately, many do not consider this practice or trait as such. I find a reciprocal respond “you too” very effective in cutting off the flow of the exchange.
3. Asking personal questions regardless of the circumstance.
An incident fresh in my memory was the movie promotional interview between a Filipino movie writer and TV host known in the Philippines entertainment industry and an American actress who eventually won an award for that movie in the 2013 OSCAR ceremony. Early in the interview this American actress flashed a pretty smile. Her growing displeasure showed as the interview progressed, refusing to answer questions she bluntly said to be too personal. The questions while relative to the movie being promoted bordered on her personal life experiences and views. This type of questions is common and almost a standard in Philippine setting. Obviously, the American actress took it as offensive and rude. The interview ended on a sour note, with the Filipino interviewer visibly surprised at the turn of events. To my mind, there was a culture gap in the exchange and both failed to bridge it.
4. High volume karaoke playing and singing lasting until the wee hours of the day. The noise robs the neighbors of peaceful sleep. Many would do nothing beyond suffer in silence and curse. However, it is also possible that someone will confront the noise – err – merrymakers and tell them to shut up. When this happens, a fight may ensue between offender/s and complainant/s. If good sense prevails, the karaoke marathon may end.
5. Most densely populated communities lack space for activities like basketball, celebration parties and 24/7 vigil for the dead. Unmindful and inconsiderate to motorists, it is common practice to block a portion or the entire stretch of the street to accommodate such activity. Confronting the organizers and attempting to put some sense to their heads is futile, a waste of time and energy. It may even get you into trouble. It is prudent to turn around and find another route to your destination.
Social life in the Philippines is very interactive, reciprocal and highly personal. Language, status and the norms of the larger, dominant society define the manner of interaction. Multi-ethnic Filipinos learn, assimilate, blend and adopt the life-style of their adoptive group or country, even acquire the language of their host. In all these however, their distinctive, inherent norms, ways and traits – both the positive and the negative - are retained. These are manifested when they are among their own and with people they are comfortable with.